By Catherine Shainberg, PhD
We live in our body, but we often forget how connected to our body we really are. We act as if our body were an alien being, inaccessible to dialogue, which must be taken elsewhere — like an object — to be fixed. We experience the usual plethora of sensations, emotions, feelings, and even pains — yet we don’t seem to grasp the possibility that we may directly and powerfully affect the health of our own body. Instead, we give our power away to medicines and drugs, or to the doctor, therapist, chiropractor, pharmacist, healer, or even our friends. And we often do this without even asking ourselves, “Can I heal myself?”
The Treasure Is in Our Dreaming
When speaking about, or to, the body, it is best to speak in images. For images are a language the body understands far better than words. To illustrate what I mean, let me tell you a story:
Once upon a time in Cracow lived a Jew named Eizik, son of Yekel. Riddled with debt and responsible for a large family, Eizik longed for someone or something to relieve him of his burdens. But nothing seemed forthcoming.
One night, Eizik had a strange dream. He saw himself in Prague, the distant capital, standing under the bridge that spanned the Vltava River, just next to the king’s palace. “Dig!” said a voice in his ear. “On this very spot is buried a treasure. All your problems will be solved.” But upon awaking, Eizik dismissed the dream as just a figment of his imagination. He felt that he had neither the strength nor the resources to travel so far.
But the dream would not go away. Night after night, he dreamed the same dream. Finally, Eizik realized that there would be no peace for him until he journeyed to far-off Prague to verify its truth.
Upon arriving at the capital, exhausted and hungry, Eizik went straight to the king’s palace. There, he recognized the bridge from his dream, the exact spot he had visioned. But soldiers were guarding the bridge. How was he to approach?
He decided simply to tell the truth. And, as you may imagine, Eizik’s revelations provoked the soldiers to great hilarity and teasing. “As for myself,” one of them mockingly said, “I dreamed there was a treasure buried in Cracow, under the chimney in Eizik the Jew’s home! And I’m leaving right now to get it!”
Upon hearing these words, Eizik had a sudden illumination. He hurried back to Cracow, removed the stones in his chimney, and, lo and behold! there was the treasure.
That the treasure lies inside ourselves, always within reach, is the first and most obvious message of this famous Hasidic story. But that the treasure lies in our dreaming is a message that is less often understood or realized.
But if the moral of the story is carried to its fullest extent, we can see that we are being told that dreaming itself contains the answer to our problems. In this story, dreaming is the magic wand that disperses our clouds, opens our locked doors, moves our land masses, cleans our cobwebs and dusty mirrors, and reveals the treasure hidden within each of us.
Is this true? Can we actually use our dreams to clear our own physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual bodies? To answer this question, we must ask another one: “What is dreaming?”
Two Warring Brains
We have only one body, but we have two arms, two legs, two eyes, and two brains. Without these ”twos” we could not strive for the tension of balance. Unfortunately, however, one side of our mind and body will often become atrophied, thus weakening and undermining the other side. For example, if your right arm is used too frequently, the natural symmetry of your posture can become unbalanced.
Our two brains (to simplify matters we’ll call them the left and right brains) have traditionally not lived happily side by side. The left brain has dominated our way of thinking since the advent of Scientific Enlightenment. It deals with logic, language, abstraction, mathematics, physics, problem-solving. Its thinking is sequential, linear, rational, and objective. Its progression is dependent upon the laws of cause and effect. The left brain tends to underrate and debase the subjective right brain.
The right brain, on the contrary, is essentially involved with the body and all of its attendant manifestations, sensations, and emotions. The right brain interprets facial expressions and body movements. It deciphers lightning-speed, complex signals, reconstructing them to gain knowledge. In this way, for instance, not only does the right brain report on other people’s appearance and state of well-being, it also makes an assessment of their deeper emotional landscape.
The right brain operates instantaneously, holistically, and intuitively. As the English language so aptly puts it, we are ”in-formed” by the right brain, which picks up pattern, shape, and interacting forms. Thus, our smell cilia are ”in-formed” by the shape of the molecules that waft towards our noses. Our ears are imprinted with the wave patterns of sound, our eyes, with the wavelength of electromagnetic radiation.
The right brain not only receives, but also responds to the outer world and to the fluctuations within our own bodies. It does this by bringing clusters of pattern, shape, and movement into our awareness. Our interactive right brain is actively dreaming day and night.
Why then do we undervalue this twin side of ourselves? If we are right-handed, would we ever think of cutting off the left arm, simply because it is not as useful as the right? Who is it that tells us our right brain is not useful?
The answer, of course, is: the left brain! Having claimed our attention, the left brain refuses to relinquish its prerogative. It tells us that the cognitions of the right brain are dreams, and that dreams are mere fantasy. But are they?
Dreaming and Fantasy
Before we go on to describe the forgotten powers of dreaming, we must dispel the notion that dreaming and fantasy are one and the same. The left brain, being willful, aggressive, and competitive, sets itself goals that it proceeds to realize. Fantasy is the left brain’s way of twisting our true dreaming to its own purposes.
For example, we might fantasize that our boss is fired for stealing money from the company, and, lo and behold, we are offered his job! Fantasy is self-serving. Our claims, expectations, desires, longings, and resentments color the fantasy and its outcome.
True dreaming is free of such conniving. Instead, it responses playfully, like a child does. Presented with a grimace, it will stick its tongue out. Presented with a beautiful woman, it will light up with a wondrous smell or a beatific landscape. Dreaming responds to what it perceives, not simplistically, not foolishly, but in a manner that is direct, spontaneous, and creative.
We will call this responsive dreaming ”Active Imagination.”
The ”Health Foods” of Relatedness
Imagine an infant deprived at an early age of its mother. It cries and cries — and continues to cry into adulthood.
What do we feed it? Words. ”Talking cures.” Unfortunately, however, talking cures affect only the mind. They cannot affect the poor body, still longing for the soft touch of a mother’s caressing hands, the sweet sound of her cooing, the luminosity of her eyes and smile.
Words only wrap the unfortunate story of loss more securely around the suffering body. They cannot cure the body of its hunger. Only through ”in-forming” the right brain — using Active Imagination to feed it lived experiences, the embodied relationships, the sustenance it so desperately needs — only this way can the void of patterning be addressed. By in-forming the right brain through the Active Imagination, the twisted configurations patterned by early lack can be unraveled and reconfigured.
How can we in-form the right brain through Active Imagination? How does this actually work?
To begin with, through the therapist or other helper, the right brain instantly picks up the sound of the listening ear, the look of the loving eyes, the feel of the hand that caresses the body, or even its proximity. Half the work of healing is done by attentive presence, caring, or touch.
Even at a distance, the right brain is wired like a radio, picking up the shape of these caring frequencies. We experience this phenomenon in our daily life, when we think of someone, only to find them calling us in the next hour or day. The vision of that person’s face and the emotion generated in our right brain sends a localized signal to the other person in the same way that tuning to a radio station will cause specific sounds and content to be received. Resonance to subtle thought and feeling is the hallmark of the right brain.
Personally Attending to Our Pains
Because of the right brain’s ability to pick up sustenance as described above, we do not need to wait in order to feed ourselves the healthy food of relatedness! Others, in attending to us, may stimulate our responsiveness. But we can attend to ourselves in the same way. In fact, being always in our bodies, we can do this even more powerfully than anyone else. All it takes is turning our senses inward to harken to our own needs.
Where do we start? With our bodies. At first, we start this re-patterning of the configurations of lack by attending to our body’s pains and discomforts. When we contract against our pain, trying to distance ourselves from it, we are feeding the pattern of lack. When we conquer our natural impulse to run away and instead begin to feed our right brain the experiences, the subtle energies, the sustenance our body seeks, we can reverse the negative patterning and create healing.
Here’s how to do this:
Attending to Your Pain
Close your eyes, breathe out slowly three times counting from three back to one. See the “1” tall, clear, and very bright.
Now, turning your eyes inward — inside your body — let your vision travel down to the area of the physical, emotional, or mental pain. Allow yourself to be in-formed by the pain: What does it look like? What color is it? Does it smell? Does it have a texture or a sound? Is it hot or cold? Inflamed or dull? Wet or dry? Describe to yourself everything you ”see” about your pain.
As you do this, you will be impelled to do something about what you are ”seeing.” For instance, let us imagine that you have been in-formed that there is a fine-line fracture in your bone. How might you deal with it? The answer is found only through your own inner impulses. Just as you did when you were a child, you play. You improvise. For instance, you might get the notion to fill up the crack with a ray of sunlight. Or you might have the impulse to glue it with the white paste of a chewed radish. Find your own images. You have received an inner image of a fine-line fracture, and you respond by offering an image back to the image offered you.
In this way, you are feeding your right brain. Through the neuronal pathways, this new message is transmitted to your bone. Your bone, accordingly in-formed, hastens to heal.
Please, don’t believe what I am saying! Instead, put it actively to the test. Words cannot in-form. Only images perceived, fully experienced, and embodied will do this. The next time you experience pain, use your active imagination to heal yourself.
Responding to Inner In-Formation
Pain — contraction — is not the only way to access the right brain. Relaxation offers equally compelling in-formation. For instance, when you are dozing off but not quite asleep yet, you may suddenly be flooded with novel sensations, vivid colors, lights, and strange images or juxtaposition of images. These images (called hypnagogic) are revealing the contours of your right brain. When you are falling asleep, with exterior stimuli shut out or muted, the right brain surfaces like a sunken island out of the ocean of sleep oblivion.
Your dreams present you with yet another unfinished puzzle to which you can add your own pieces. For instance, you dream that you are swept away by a swollen torrent. You wake up with a feeling of terror. But after contemplation, you recognize that your life is just too busy, that you are out of control. In a case like this, what do you do? Call up your therapist in a panic? Possibly. But a better way, perhaps, is just to sit down, close your eyes, and return into the dream. This method of dealing with your fear is faster and cheaper, and it frees you to be responsible and independent.
Here is how to go about it:
Attending to Your Dream
Close your eyes, and breathe out three times, counting from three back to one. See the “1” tall, clear, and very bright.
Now, return into the dream. See yourself being swept away by a raging torrent. What do you do to extricate yourself? You could, for example, relax completely — let go, and let yourself be carried by the raging waters. Soon, you drift down to a calm, sparkling sea. Or you might hang on to a low branch and heave yourself from the roiling waters. Or you might simply decide to sink to the bottom of the torrent and rest there, becoming the water, then rising, realize that the waters have become calm. Watch what unfolds. When you feel that the movement has come to completion, breathe out and open your eyes.
So you do have many options. But please remember this: When you re-enter a dream, only one of those options will surface. The dream image and that one option serve as both your diagnosis and your healing. You find the resolution to a difficult image through the unfolding of your active dreaming, and in the process you in-form your body of the abatement of the physical, emotional, or mental storm. You have participated directly in your own healing.
Dialoguing With Your Right Brain
Will you be satisfied with just responding to a pain or to a dream? How about dialoguing directly with your right brain? You know now that it needs your imput to return to health and then to continue being healthy. Are you not tempted to find out what treasure is buried under your emotional chimney? To pull away the stones that have confined and hidden it from view? To plunge unabashedly into the space just opened up?
To do so, you must act. You must ask a question, expecting the answer to reach you — not in words, but in a 3-D, surround-sound, all-encompassing experience. Your right brain is just like a well-cared-for child. The more you dare to ask questions of it, the more active, vital, perky, and playful it gets. Soon, it is joyously manifesting the cornucopia of its hidden world. Your crying infant who became a sad adult is suddenly feeling replete.
By paying attention to yourself, you are being fed, enriched, moved and transformed. The old fixed configuration of loss and impoverishment is breaking up, transmuting, and flowing into the promised land of milk and honey. Abundance, richness, creativity, joy, lightness of being, love, grace, beauty — all spring up from that inner land. To access it, just utilize this in-formation:
Dialoguing With Your Dream World
Close your eyes. Breathe out three times, counting from three back to one. See the ”1” tall, clear, and very bright.
Imagine that you are standing in a meadow, looking up into a clear blue sky. Stretching your arm up to the sun, and catching a ray of light, use this ray of light to draw a circle of light in the right-hand side of the sky. Breathe out and bring your arm down.
Look into the circle of light, and see what wonders are appearing there for you. When you have seen, respond directly if the need arises. Or else, if the image completes and satisfies you, breathe out and open your eyes.
There are an infinity of ways of tapping into the imaginal Source. Clues to how this can be done may be found by modeling yourself on the poet. The poet inhabits a no-man’s land between words and image. He jolts us out of our habitual mode of seeing by juxtaposed or leaping images, paradoxical or unexpected effects, sharp directional shifts. Stuffy configurations are disposed of, new ones configured. You can learn abundantly from the poet’s craft.
Remember that your left brain wants to disclaim everything you have just read. Your right brain, on the contrary, leaps up to the bait of pattern, image, touch, sound, smell, and taste.
Will you feed your hungry inner child the healthy foods of your imagination? If you do so, you not only heal yourself, but also propel yourself into new and exciting adventures. Like Eizik of Cracow, by actively participating in your own dreaming, you can discover the buried treasure in your hearth. Therein lies your own, inborn heritage of health, abundance, happiness, and a balanced life.
About the Author — Dr. Catherine Shainberg is an internationally known expert in the uses of Imagery for transformation on all levels. She has designed and developed, in over 40 years of experience, modern applications for ancient science which have proved effective in thousands of cases. Whether the field is physical, mental or spiritual, her methods work quickly, simply and efficiently. Her method, Reversing™, has proven results in areas ranging from childbirth to business management—including the successful use of Imagery for combat-related injury, PTSD, cancer and mental illness.
She has written two books on the application of her techniques: Kabbalah and the Power of Dreaming, and DreamBirth. DreamBirth will be available in 2014 from Sounds True, as a book and an audio series. Her upcoming publications will include books on Dream Opening™ and the uses of Reversing™ for trauma and risk management. Her published audios include: DreamBirth: Conception, DreamBirth: Pregnancy, DreamBirth Labor: Before, During and After, Imagery for Surgery, and Kabbalah and the Power of Dreaming Guided Exercises. Her first book is available in Japanese, German, Russian, Spanish, Czech and Romanian, with translations into other languages in production. Her audio series is also being translated into Russian, German, Spanish and Japanese.
Dr. Shainberg travels year-round to meet demand for live workshops, and in response to requests from international students, has created weekly online classes for Russia, Japan, Australia, Germany, Spain, France, Mexico, South America, Portugal, Belgium, UK and other countries.
In 1982, she founded The School of Images in New York. The School holds classes in Imagery, Dream Opening™, Morphology, Pregnancy, Supervision and supports a Prayer group for healing. The School gives 50% of its training to scholarship students, and its trainees or graduates practice in the US and internationally: The School of Images™–Japan, The School of Images™ –Slovenia, The School of Images™ –Australia, and The School of Images™—Russia.
Dr. Shainberg was born in London, England and raised in France. She has Masters degrees from the Sorbonne, l’Ecole du Louvre and NYU, and a PhD in psychology. She has a private practice in New York and lives in New York and Wellfleet, Massachusetts.